Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blogs of people more famous than me.

Not that that's a terribly hard task to manage. Even with the multitude of hits I've found of that video of my fight with Shaun Arliss, I don't think I even qualify as "internet-famous". If the "Ask a Ninja" guy contacts me later, though, I'll have to rethink that position.

Not much with the holding of the breath there.

But the point of this post is to draw a little deserved attention to the blog of one of my favorite writers, Poppy Z. Brite. A New Orleans native, she's sticking with the city she loves, post-Katrina, and has a very readable blog where she tells you all about it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Justice League: The New Frontier

I'm a big fan of Darwyn Cooke, whose six issue comic book miniseries DC: The New Frontier placed that company's characters in the midst of the events of 1950's America, the Atomic Age. It nicely captured the hopes and fears of that era, reflecting both the ugliness of the Korean War and McCarthyite politics and the soaring hopes embodied by gleaming new silver jets reaching for the sound barrier and the glitz of the Rat Pack's Las Vegas.

The direct-to-DVD movie Justice League: The New Frontier stays faithful to the basic plot: After World War II, the "mystery men" of the era known in comics as the Golden Age have become a political liability in postwar America, and are easy targets for Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Most of them are forced into retirement or pressed into service, with only a few holdouts determined to still fight the good fight against crime and injustice on their own terms. Superman and Wonder Woman (the former in the costume he wore in the old Fleischer cartoons, the latter in her original Golden Age costume, complete with the peculiarly-immune-to-updrafts miniskirt), choose to work for Uncle Sam, while Batman chooses to go deeper into the shadows to continue his private war in defiance of the law. New heroes are starting to emerge, though, as scientist Barry Allen transforms almost magically into the streamlined speedster known as The Flash, and Martian J'onn J'onzz is accidentally brought to Earth and must struggle to fit in. We also follow the career of pilot Hal Jordan from the cease-fire in Korea to his debut as the new Green Lantern. And behind it all, a new threat looms over the world, as cults are started in worship of a hideously powerful inhuman force known only as "The Center". It's the story of the transition from the Golden to the Silver Age.

Visually, the movie captures the action of the books quite well. This should come as no surprise, as Cooke has done work for not only the various series that evolved out of Batman: The Animated Series, but also for Men in Black: The Series. The clean style of art that Cooke has developed for his comic book work makes it so that his comic panels can almost be used as storyboards for JL:TNF. It's a visual treat that's clearly geared toward older audiences. While not depicting any graphic violence or nudity, there's enough blood and strong language to push it into the teen-and-older demographics.

Unfortunately, the movie fails to entirely evoke the storytelling of the source material. Part of this is because of the necessities of adapting a long story into a 90-minute movie. Something's gotta get cut. Pilot "Ace" Morgan is featured as a supporting character, but his comrades, The Challengers of the Unknown, are entirely absent. Same thing goes for Colonel Rick Flag, cut off from his AWOL Task Force X (less affectionately known as The Suicide Squad). Other characters who appeared in the comic series are referred to only in passing, such as The Losers (whose final mission of World War II is the prologue of the series) and Steel (whose death at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan illustrated that, though the nightmare of war was over, others still remained to haunt the land). Also missing is the first-person "voiceovers" that allowed us to get inside the heads of the characters in different chapters, which allowed the reader to get a better feel for both the characters and the times.

The other area where it falls short, for me, is politics. If the government says that superpowered vigilantism is illegal, and you're still putting on your cape and flying off to fight crime, that, by extension, is a political act. At one point Superman and Lois Lane are having a heart-to-heart on top of the Daily Planet building. Superman mentions McCarthy in passing, and Lois' response is basically to say "a plague on both houses", meaning that McCarthy's opponents are just as much to blame for the current situation in America as he was. That kind of mushy centrism - the Red-baiters on one side and the other saying "can't we all just get along?" - forms the scope of the political debate. By default, it cedes the floor to the Red-baiters. At no point are the heroes allowed to even imply that McCarthy and his HUAC allies, whose activities resulted in the notorious "Hollywood blacklist" and meant jail or unemployment for people who had not committed a crime, were wrong.

But don't get me wrong. JL:TNF is a fun ride with plenty of action and a big finish. If that's all you're looking for in a superhero story, then it fits the bill nicely.

The bonus DVD in the two-disc set also features a fun documentary about supervillains (using the old Super Friends foes, The Legion of Doom, as a guide), and three bonus episodes of Justice League Unlimited that feature some of the characters or related plot elements that appear in the movie.

My wife got me this for our anniversary. My wife rules.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Turn around and she's gone.

So this morning I found an IM waiting for me. It was a group notice from a friend of mine saying that she was done with SL, and wasn't coming back. She couched it a bit more nicely than that, but that was the gist. The IM was accompanied by another notice, this one from the system, telling me that I had been ejected from her group. When I scanned my friends list, her name was also gone from there.

No reasons were given. I hadn't been around her place in a while, and don't know if it was burnout, disinterest, or the result of relentless unwanted attention from the multitude of dickweeds that I know to be out there.

Or some other reason entirely, for that matter.

I seldom clean out my friends list. Every now and then I catch the name of somebody coming on or going offline, and I'll smile at the memories. Even if I don't have time to sit down and talk to them, knowing that they're out there somewhere in this little universe of ours is a source of comfort to me.

Other names I never see pop up. They lay on the bottom of my friends list, forever unbolded and forlorn. People with whom I've joked and laughed and cried, who just logged out one day and never logged back on. I wonder where they are out in the world, and if they ever think of me the way I do them.

I've also had friends who had a pre-planned date of departure, a tidying of affairs and final gathering of friends. A funeral for an avatar, if you will, only the dearly departed is actually only the "nearly" departed, and still able to answer questions and exchange tearful farewells. The end result is the same, the same void in one's life as a friend casts aside the name he or she took here, to take up the one he or she was given at birth.

And that person is a stranger to me, just in the way that my friends who know me as "Abel Undercity" would not recognize the man typing up this post.

Of course, "gone" doesn't always mean "gone forever" in SL. Sometimes, as a notorious direct-to-video Stephen King trilogy points out, they come back. It's that hope that keeps me from clearing out my friends list.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Light, sun, air. Bodyslams, clotheslines, piledrivers.

I've yet to take in a Second Life Championship Wrestling (SLCW) show, much to my regret. It sounds like a lot of fun. Fortunately, they've posted a video of their latest event so that absentees like myself can catch the action as well (and don't hesitate to check it out; also-an-Averlast-boxer Paula Wilcox is featured in the main event).

But what I'm really here to talk about today is not so much SLCW, but the new arena that houses it. Builder Eric Stuart created for them a nice piece of architecture that, to my mind, embodies the principles enshrined by the German architects of the Bauhaus: "Licht, Sonne, Luft," or "Light, Sun, Air".

Unlike many buildings in SL, the new SLCW arena has a definite sense of place. You could picture walking into this building in real life to catch a show.

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The main lobby of the arena

The arena itself is also an aesthetic treat, attention to detail being paid without making the place seem cluttered.

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Where the action takes place.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about SLCW once I actually manage to take in the experience myself, but for now I'm content to admire the house until I catch the show.

At loose ends.

Normally on a Thursday, my task, as I've previously documented, was simple: Collect the names of the people who send me notecards today and pass them on to Karine, so that she may book the fights for tomorrow night.

But, of course, with the change in schedule from weekly to monthly events, there are no fights tomorrow. I've talked to everyone that I need to talk to in order to get some pending Averlast business done, I'm several miles from my own computer with its suite of graphics software and templates, and so I'm twisting in the wind a little.

On the bright side, I'll be able to catch the new episode of Doctor Who on SciFi tomorrow. That helps.

UPDATE: Stupid SciFi Memorial weekend movie marathon! Who the hell watches these crappy "SciFi Originals" anyway? Arrrrgh!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Friday Night Tournament: Mama said knock me out.

"Experience is that little voice that says: 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that!'" - Douglas Adams

Our neighbors in Trueblood installed camp chairs on their land the night of our tournament, crowding out boxers and audience from the sim. Said chairs seemed to be gone the next day. Classy.

So the end result of that was picking up the whole works and moving it to the new Averlast Island, which was under construction but still in good enough shape for an evening of boxing. We're not ready to hand out landmarks yet, so JoJo and I acted as a relay system between the current gym and the island: She'd relay names to me, and I'd search them up and teleport them to the venue.

So, a little late and battling the usual bugs, we started. For the first time in a while, I was scheduled to fight that night, and I already knew that my opponent would be the only other heavyweight who had signed up for the evening: Jihan.

As regular readers know, this is far from the first time that Jihan and I have tangled. Unfortunately for me, she was coming off of a quick KO loss to jony23 Abramovic the prior week, and had spent as much time as she could in the gym, training up for our match.

Even more unfortunately for me, I hadn't. In addition to the fact that I was already in semi-retirement (which ends the day I write this, assuming the RAM sticks that UPS just dropped at my door work properly), and a busy week that absolutely did not involve taking time to spar.

Anybody expecting to see an underdog-comes-from-behind-to-win scenario here had best go out and rent a Rocky movie. My level of preparedness was, to say the least, insufficient when it came to dealing with someone of Jihan's caliber, and she whupped me but good. The pain ended in the middle of the second round, when she scored the final ringout for the KO win. It was the first time I had been knocked out at an event.

I don't mind losing per se. It's part of the game, and as in anything the hope for victory is tempered by the necessary potential for loss. I especially don't mind losing to Jihan, who, for all of her aggression and fire during the fight, is always gracious when it's over regardless of the result.

What gnawed at me afterwards was the knowledge that I could have done better. Even if it still wasn't good enough to win, I would have been satisfied with a match at the level of my prior fight with Jihan.

But, by not preparing, I pretty much got the beating I deserved.

My mood levelled out, thanks to words of wisdom from our lovely card girl/timekeeper Fionna Bracken (who reminded me that I had been here before, and that the way I dealt with it the last time was to - hello! - get back into practicing so I'm ready next time), and from Jihan herself, with whom I had a marathon sparring session the next day to help shake off the ring rust.

It helped remind me why I stay at Averlast long after the point in time where, normally, I would have drifted on to the next distraction that SL has to offer: They're not just my colleagues or potential opponents there. They're my friends, and I cherish every one of them.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Living in a comic book world.

Take a look at the following picture. I mean take a really close look. Observe the details.

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Compared to superheroes like Iron Man, who fly with no visible nods to the laws of aerodynamics, MACH I (a lesser-known Marvel character)sports features like airplane-like wings and a more traditional flight helmet that almost make his suit look like a feasible piece of technology.

Well, guess what?

Passing from free fall to a gentle glide, Rossy then triggered four jet turbines and accelerated to 186 miles per hour, about 65 miles per hour faster than the typical falling skydiver. A plane that flew at some distance beside him measured his speed.

The crowd on the mountaintop below gasped and cheered.

Rossy's mother, who was among the spectators, told journalists she felt no fear.
"He knows what he's doing," Paule Rossy said of her son, who now flies commercial planes for Swiss airlines.

Steering with his body, Rossy dived, turned and soared again, performing what appeared to be effortless loops from one side of the Rhone valley to the other. At times he rose 2,600 feet before descending again.

After one last wave to the crowd the rocket man tipped his wings, flipped onto his back and leveled out again, executing a perfect 360-degree roll.

"That was to impress the girls," he later admitted.

I love being alive today.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

ARC of Infinity

Speaking of Randur, here's a little something in the menu that he pointed out to me: Advanced->Rendering->Info Displays->Avatar Rendering Cost

What it does is put on display how much effort is going into rendering your (and your friends') avatars, using both numbers and a green (good) to red (Danger, Will Robinson!) color scale. Linden Labs itself admits that it's a rough estimate, and leaving it on all of the time will actually contribute to your performance issues, but it's still a potentially useful tool.

Consider Averlast, for example. I've documented cases of killer lag on fight night. Sometimes it seems like SL itself is a worse opponent than the fighter in the other corner. A tool like this could help our fighters streamline themselves as much as possible, to the benefit of everyone.

Of course, the audience is the uncontrollable factor. People want to look their best on a night out, after all. Will the introduction of ARC into the mix of SL introduce mandatory maximums at events like ours? It will be interesting to see how different places handle it.

Linden Labs has the full details here.

More fashion news.

Cerrie Janus found herself a boxing-styled outfit and began looking for a place to do a photo shoot for her blog. Naturally, she came to us.

Okay, maybe it wasn't as fait accompli as I make it sound, but Averlast was where she ended up, and Randur and I did our best to make her feel welcome. Which was easy to do, given that Cerrie was a gracious guest and more than welcome to come back anytime.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

From Jeopardy, we learn things.

So on Jeopardy last night, the final question was what was it that Thomas Edison filmed at his lab, making it the first sport ever captured on film? The answer was boxing. My wife got it, I didn't. But that didn't keep me from scouring YouTube to try and find the clip, and I think I did:

OK, not exactly Ali vs. Frazier, but still. Edison must have been a fan of the sweet science, because my search turned up a couple of interesting tidbits:

And then there's this, which is actually a bit painful to watch. These two are a long way from Laila Ali:

Monday, May 12, 2008

Seventy-Five Songs

Shameless copycat that I am, when I saw the playist on Dolly Gwyneville's blog I was seized with a heavy case of "WANT!" So I clicked on the little button that invites me to build my own and began picking songs.

Picking a song list is a lot more personal an experience than I'd thought it would be. Some of them even surprised me as I clicked to add them to the list.

The presence of a lot of 1980's alternative shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me. Nothing irks me more than to hear the decade that brought The Cure, Siouxsie Sioux, and Wall of Voodoo to my hungry ears summed up as the time of Madonna, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson. Actually, that's not entirely true. Lots of other things irk me. I can be very irkable. But anyway.

"Danny Boy" - The Pogues: Yes, the stereotypical "bar full of crying Irishmen" song. My Dad was very big on Irish pride. He once told me that every Irishman cries when he hears "Danny Boy". And I, young dummy that I was, said that I didn't. He looked at me and said: "That's because you haven't lost anybody yet." Well, a few years after that conversation with my father, I lost him. And he was absolutely right.

"Jesus Walking on the Water" - Violent Femmes: As a confirmed agnostic, this seems like another odd choice for me to others. No doubt it caused some head-scratching among the friends and fans of the Violent Femmes as well. After all, they're better known for fare like "Blister in the Sun" and "Gone Daddy Gone", and hardly the likely candidates to produce a catchy bluegrass gospel number like this. But it is very catchy, and a nice little something for music fans to use to remind themselves that not all Christian music consists of lukewarm dreck like the currently-trendy "Awesome God".

"O Fortuna" - Apotheosis: A remix of Carl Orff's opening song of the "Carmina Burana", and the only techno offering on the list. I'm not a big techno fan, but maybe that's because the only times I've heard it the DJ maxed out the bass and turned the rest of the mix into a mushy, unrecognizable background for the relentless beat. Such was the state of affairs at my friends' favorite club. Despite the music, it's where my friends were, so that's where I was. "O Fortuna" was the happy exception to my "I hate the freakin' music here" rule, and listening to it now takes me back to the press of bodies on the dance floor and the smell of artificial smoke.

Friday Night Tournament: The title fight I'd hoped for.

As I've written previously, I had high hopes for the matchup between Dwain Aeon and JoJo Nightfire, as they faced each other in the final round of the Lightweight Championship Tournament. And looking back now, I have to say that neither fighter disappointed, and the match was every bit of what I had hoped to see.

I will confess to a certain degree of apprehension going into the night. After all, the previous week had been a lag-heavy nightmare, and as Paula Wilcox faced off against Jonny Wittels in the opening match, it looked like we were in for more of the same. At least, that's how it looked from my computer. I can't speak for anyone else.

Then, so suddenly you could almost hear it go "pop", the lag disappeared during that fight's third round. Maybe it was just my system this time. I don't know, but I know for damn sure that I was breathing easier from there on in.

The remainder of the evening ran its course, with the usual attendant headaches as we ran through almost our entire roster of alternate fighters to replace ones who were booked and never showed (thanks, guys), and finally it was time for the main event.

I'll admit that I was waiting for the bottom to fall out as I made the introductions. Surely this wasn't going to go smoothly. Surely someone was about to crash, or the sim would be restarted, or, or, or...

But sure enough, there they both were, gloves on and ready to rumble (note to Michael Buffer: Please don't sue me, I am poor). Nothing for me to do but get out of the way and let Fionna ring the bell.

In the first round, Dwain took control as JoJo seemed to struggle to get her bearings. As I said previously, both fighters share an advantage in speed, which was on full display for the entire fight. But round one clearly went to Dwain as he pursued his opponent with vigor, knocking her out of the ring once before the bell rang.

The second round saw JoJo come into focus. As the round went on, she began to assume more and more control of the situation, repaying Dwain for the previous ringout and scoring some impressive hits.

But the keeper, the highlight reel round was the third. It began with JoJo coming on strong, picking up where she had left off in the previous round. She looked well on her way to winning handily (I even heard some of the audience shouting advice at her to fall into a defensive mode in order to hang on to her lead), when Dwain made a dramatic late-round rally. He connected for his second ringout on JoJo. Then, as soon as she was back in the ring, he hit her for the third. JoJo couldn't seem to mount a defense against the onslaught as Dwain came in for the fourth and final time...

Fionna called time just as JoJo went flying. The round was over, and the last ringout, the one that would have secured a knockout win for Dwain, didn't count. The crowd held its breath as I and both fighters stood in the ring and waited for the judge's score.

And when it finally came: JoJo, by a margin of only three points.

Holy shit. What a fight. What a great goddamn fight.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

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JoJo863 Nightfire
Averlast Lightweight Champion

Thursday, May 8, 2008

So much to do...

By my count, I have five separate projects at various stages of development for items to sell in the store. There's always a sign or poster that needs doing now if not sooner (and don't I still owe Karine a couple from the last batch?). There's a guy I need to train and ideas I want to pitch, and stuff I can't even talk about yet for fear of spoiling the surprise.

And then, like last night, I sometimes play hooky from all of this, rez a pair of gloves on my hands, and step into the ring with an able an enthusiastic sparring partner. It reminds me why I do this: Because I love it. I love the challenge of trying to outmaneuver a worthy opponent. I love the competition. I love the amazing people whom I've met through Averlast.

Who knows what the future might bring us, but for now I'm having the time of my (second) life.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

RAGE against the machine

I've been meaning to check out the other aspects of the fight game in SL for some time now. The mess we had at our own event on Friday prompted me to "take some air", as Karine later put it, and I went to check out Royce Boa's RAGE fighting promotion.

In the interest of full disclosure I feel compelled to point out that Averlast has a few vendors there, selling our gear, and that I get a cut of those sales. Even so, beyond it being within my own personal interest that RAGE does well, Royce has created something here that very much deserves to do well.

The fighting style is martial arts, using Abranimations' Combat Evolution system. Trying it out later myself, I found the footwork very much recalling Averlast, but with the added feature of a panel of buttons for me to hit with my mouse, triggering one of any number of moves. So fighting with CE had me working the keyboard's directional buttons with my left hand, while working the button panel with my right. It certainly adds a dimension of challenge, that's for sure.

The day I popped in to check out an event happened to be RAGE's North American Women's Championship tournament. Royce had an automated tournament board set up, and contenders would enter as they arrived. The board sets up the matches automatically, randomly pairing entrants but not revealing the matchups until the owner sees fit to do so. At least, that's my understanding of it.

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Ivory Perfferle stands over Darling Bomse at the end of the final match

The matches were one round apiece, the round lasting for five minutes. None of them made it that far. One aspect of the CE system is that it regenerates health if the fighter is not actively taking hits, so there's no percentage in not going right in and trying to do as much damage as you can.

Needless to say, this made for some fast and brutal fighting, enhanced by the addition of kiais and blood-spatter particle effects included in the combat system.

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Ivory accepts the North American Women's belt from RAGE President Royce Boa

Next week, I understand, is the men's event, which I plan on taking in as well. Events are each Sunday at noon SLT. For now, if you're interested, just put in a search for RAGE fighting, but later I'll be updating with a proper SLurl.

UPDATE: Agh, it never fails. I remembered that I wanted to add a description of the place only after I was well away from any computer. Royce describes her arena as having a "punk rock" aesthetic, with a sort of rough-and-tumble practicality. It certainly fits that vision, especially the ring area. Small enough to have all announcements made without resorting to using shout, but still not giving one any sense of claustrophobia, the ring area is surrounded by hurricane fencing topped with barbed wire. The rest of the area matches this aesthetic, with discarded barrels lying around, some pieces of gym equipment, and a couple of sofas with the cushions half off. Definitely full marks for atmosphere.

Friday Night Tournament: Seriously, WTF?

I've complained about lag before, but last Friday was an entirely new experience. I'd call it a case study of what could go wrong on tournament night. Murphy's Laws of Boxing.

Some stuff was preventable, like the massive brain cramp I suffered that had me reading a previous version of the fight card and calling to the ring two fighters who never bothered to show.

The rest was down to a crushing layer of lag. It just did not let up. At one point I checked the lag meter that Linden Labs now provides under the viewer's Help menu, and results were interesting, to say the least.

Server was green. Network was green. Client, which is to say, the box I was viewing it all through, was red.

And in the back of my head I heard the sneering voice of Johnny Rotten: "The problem is YOU!"
Thing is, though, it wasn't just me. Most of our fighters had trouble, and a lot of them were newcomers having their first experience with Averlast's tournament. No doubt there had been talk of lag prior to Friday night, and usually it contains itself within acceptable levels. But as your Mom always said, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and performance was so poor that night that I doubt that some of the people who fought (or tried to, having SL as a second, unexpected opponent) will be coming back.

So is this another error to add to the litany of Havok4's list of sins? Is Linden Labs trying to push too far ahead too soon, leaving many people's systems behind? Obsolescence is a hazard that everyone who owns a computer must eventually face, but could this have been handled better? "Havok4" has almost become a curse word among SLers, as various bugs continue to manifest on top of a heavier system load.

Things dragged out to the point that the audience got up and left, little by little. We coaxed a lot of them back for the title fight between JoJo and Dwain, but SL wasn't letting us get away with that, either, as it crashed Dwain repeatedly and forced us to reschedule for next week.

So a bad night. But hopefully as bad as it gets.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Feeding your passion for fashion.

Something I just gotta give some props to: Averlast Head Card Girl/Timekeeper Fionna "Bell-Breaker" Bracken is a guest blogger at Dolly Gwynneville's blog. They are definitely two ladies devoted to the art of looking good, and they look like they're having fun while doing it. With the hip, finger-snapping soundtrack Dolly provides in the sidebar, it's like going to an SL fashion show without having to close your browser.

Head scratcher.

What does it say about the state of humanity that an actual display of the values that team sports are supposed to teach our kids is considered national news?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Not kicking ass, just taking names.

Every Thursday finds me hovering over my Gmail account, waiting for someone to send me the notecard that lets me know that they're in for tomorrow. Gmail auto-updates, so even as I'm writing this post I'm still watching my mail like a hawk, ready to swoop down on a fresh registration.


Any minute now...


(cough, cough)

Some weeks it all comes in a flood, others it's like watching for a pot to boil. It can get pretty maddening sometimes.

I like to let Karine know who's in so far at around the 24-hour mark before the event (that's 7:00 my time). I've never asked, but I assume that's when she starts booking the matches. I'm usually not a part of that process.

But I need those names. Gotta have 'em. Names mean that we've got a show tomorrow. Names mean that I don't start mindlessly stressing and pacing up and down the aisle of the bookmobile. I like names. Names are good.

Feed me names!

(Bill E., I know you're reading this. Restrain yourself.)